News FocusInfectious Disease

From Pigs to People: The Emergence of a New Superbug

Science  27 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5995, pp. 1010-1011
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5995.1010

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The discovery of a novel strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) able to jump from livestock to humans has sparked a multicountry effort to see how dangerous it might be. So far, the worst fears about the strain have not been realized. It did jump from pigs to people, scientists determined through gumshoe detective work. And it has caused serious disease—although rarely—among farmers and veterinarians who work with pigs and other livestock, and their families, although most of them carry the microbe harmlessly in their noses. But it doesn't appear to be readily transmissible between humans, so the chance of a broad community epidemic seems low. However, MRSA readily mixes and matches genes with other bacteria that make it more virulent, more transmissible, and harder to treat—and this newly emerged strain could take that route too.